I hope that my readers had a wonderful Mother’s Day. For those whose mothers are still living, I hope that it was a great day of celebration. For those who like me no longer have our mothers with us, Mother’s Day is when I contemplate and thank God for the wonderful memories of the love, kindness, and nurture that my mother gave to me. President Obama, whose mother died in 1995, had no public schedule of events for yesterday, so I am sure the First Family celebrated Mother’s Day together. However, in recognition of Mother’s Day, the White House tweeted the following to celebrate non-motherhood: “Thanks to the #ACA, 1 in 3 women under 65 gained access to preventive care—like birth control—with no out-of-pocket costs. #HappyMothersDay.” The ACA referred to in the tweet is, of course, the Affordable Care Act, the so-called Obamacare. Thus, for President Obama, Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate an abortion mandate that compels religious groups and others to pay for birth control and other abortifacients under the employee health care plans in violation of their religious liberty. As my readers know, the abortion mandate has led to more than 100 lawsuits from religious groups, businesses, schools and universities, and others, that are not allowed to deviate from the narrow provisions of Obamacare’s mandates. Of course, there was much that the President could have said to the American people to celebrate motherhood on Mother’s Day. He could have written something general and non-political, as did Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition, who wrote, “With all the bad news of late, let’s turn our focus to those women in our lives who have loved us, cared for us, and mentored us. We are so grateful for all the praying, faithful mothers and women who won’t give up. I hope you enjoy special time with your families rejoicing in the blessings of a mother.” Alternatively, if the President wanted to focus on the importance of women’s choices, perhaps he could have quoted Donna Ball, who wrote in At Home on Ladybug Farm, “Motherhood is a choice you make every day, to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, to do the right thing even when you’re not sure what the right thing is…and to forgive yourself, over and over again, for doing everything wrong.” Either would have been very classy, but I think that such statements are outside of President Obama’s comfort zone. But, with the White House tweet, President Obama is, at least, consistent and able to draw clear “red lines” with regard to abortion absolutism (though he readily struggles with “red lines” in Iran, Syria, North Korea, and the Benghazi scandal). He recently blessed the Planned Parenthood convention by concluding his formal remarks by saying “God bless you!” and now blesses the ability of women to be non-mothers with no out-of-pocket costs. On Mother’s Day? Really?
The Chicago White Sox lost the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and seven other White Sox players were accused of accepting money to throw the Series. A Chicago street urchin came up to the outfielder, grabbed his coat sleeve, and asked Shoeless Joe, “It ain’t true, is it, Joe!” So in a similar fashion, could one of our Mere Comments readers be a tax evader? Say it isn’t true, Mike!
How could such a situation arise? First, let me put some perspective on this. The fetching Mrs. Avramovich and I have never purchased anything from online Internet retailers for a variety of reasons. Nope, as hard to believe, not from Amazon, not Netflix, not from Macy’s, Wal-Mart, never, zilch, nada! Nor do we intend to do so as long as humanly possible. So, I have no personal or vested interest for or against Internet purchases. So, I can objectively opine on this topic. However, I can easily imagine that some of my readers have made Internet purchases from an out-of-state business. In this context, by a 2-1 bipartisan majority, the U.S. Senate recently passed the so-called “Marketplace Fairness Act,” which allows states, counties, towns, Indian reservations (yep, the Native American reservations were snuck into the bill by the Senate leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) at the last moment) to levy and collect sales taxes on Internet purchases. This bill is intended to overturn the 1992 Supreme Court Quill decision that found that out-of-state retailers are not required to collect sales taxes, unless they have a “nexus,” meaning a sufficient business presence in a particular state, such as an office or warehouse. If enacted, Internet sellers would have to comply with the sales taxes for almost 10,000 different jurisdictions within the United States that collect sales taxes, and where the same product may be taxed differently in various jurisdictions. (An Internet seller of popcorn, for example, could face a bewildering task as some towns or counties might classify popcorn a food exempt from, or pay a lower rate of, sales tax, but an adjoining town might fully tax popcorn as a novelty item.) President Obama is enthusiastic about this new tax, and supports it. Although I am unsure whether this bill will pass the House of Representatives, which tends to be more skeptical about raising taxes on consumers, and still maintains, for the time being, some modicum of fidelity to federalism principles. But then again, access to tax money talks, and I am sure even some Republicans can be bought as their states can use the tax money. Nevertheless, I am unsure that the Supreme Court would find this end run around its Quill ruling to be sufficiently constitutional under our federal system. Moreover, given that the Senate bill applies only to businesses that sell more than $1 million of goods annually, there is also a potential constitutional equal protection legal argument. But whether this Senate bill is ever enacted into law, most Internet purchasers already have a tax liability due to their states, and other local jurisdictions.
So, where is the possible tax evasion? Well, let us consider the example of Illinois, although dozens of other states have similar provisions. According to the Illinois Department of Revenue website:
In 1955, the General Assembly passed the Use Tax Act. Use Tax is a sales tax that you, as the purchaser, owe on items that you buy for use in Illinois. If the seller does not collect at least 6.25 percent sales tax, you must pay the difference to the Illinois Department of Revenue. The most common purchases on which the seller does not collect Illinois Use Tax are those made via the internet, from a mail order catalog, or made when traveling outside Illinois. You must keep your receipts when you make these types of purchases. In 2010, the [Illinois] General Assembly passed a law making it easier for individuals to pay their Use Tax by putting a line on Form IL-1040. It also created an Illinois Use Tax Amnesty which means individuals can pay Use Tax owed for prior years without penalty and interest on Form ST-44.
Illinoisans might easily contend, “Oh Balderdash! That is a ridiculous tax!” But do not be sanguine about this. The Illinois Department of Revenue warns:
The Illinois Department of Revenue can assess use tax owed by taxpayers who do not pay voluntarily. For taxpayers who do not have records to document their use tax liability, the department will estimate liability.
Of course, Christian believers are reminded by our Lord, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” And St. Paul teaches, in pertinent part in Romans 13: 6-7, “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue . . . “ So could there be a possible tax evader among my readers? Well, if you ever were an evader or know of one in your household, then you are now responsible for this information, which has been presented on Mere Comments as a public service to our readers. After all, such sales and use taxes are needed by cities, counties and states to pay for public education, safety and police, and health care for the poor. Surely, no one, particularly Christian believers, can reasonably object to paying these taxes.
A ond-day conference will be held at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church on Chicago’s southwest side near Midway Airport, sponsored by Gottesdienst: The Journal of Lutheran Theology, edited by Rev. Fr. Burnell F. Eckardt Jr. (see his Touchstone article, Nursery Crimes, Jan/Feb 2013). Rumor has it that Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon is planning to attend this conference. See you there? The cost is $12.
Over the past year, I have written several articles on these pages about how unwelcome Christians and conservatives are in the new Obama military. The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and the open military service of homosexuals in the military, and former Defense Secretary Panetta’s lifting of the ban on women in combat beginning in 2016, makes the United States military an increasingly unwelcome (and hazardous) environment for more conservative and/or Christian believers. Moreover, the increasing high number of sexual assaults on both male and female military personnel makes the military a dangerous place, and not merely from enemy soldiers and combatants. Accordingly, after decades of encouraging young people to consider the military, several years ago, I came to the sad conclusion that the military should not longer be an option for Christian and more conservative young people.
In light of the manufactured pain of President Obama’s “Sequester,” military leaders complain that those budget cuts will hurt the morale of troops, military readiness, and damage the Pentagon’s ability to recruit an all-volunteer force, even though they continue to purchase “green” jet fuel that is almost sixteen times the price of conventional jet fuel. So, while the Sequester may be blamed by the generals and Obama political appointees at the Pentagon for what I suspect will prove to be an increasing inability to recruit an all-volunteer military force, there may be a lesser known Pentagon measure that can make recruiting far worse.
According to numerous press reports, President Obama Pentagon appointees met privately on April 23, 2013, with Military Religious Freedom Foundation (“MRFF”) officials, a decidedly anti-Christian group, to develop court-martial procedures to punish Christians in the military (including chaplains) who express or share their faith with others. (Yes, to let the full gravity of that sentence sink in, please re-read that last sentence.) This arises from a military policy called “Air Force Culture, Air Force Standards,” published on Aug. 7, 2012.
Section 2.11 of that Air Force regulation states:
Government Neutrality Regarding Religion. Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for an individual’s free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. For example, they must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion. Commanders or supervisors who engage in such behavior may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity. The potential result is a degradation of the unit’s morale, good order, and discipline. Airmen, especially commanders and supervisors, must ensure that in exercising their right of religious free expression, they do not degrade morale, good order, and discipline in the Air force or degrade the trust and confidence that the public has in the United States Air Force.
MRFF president, Michael L. (Mikey) Weinstein, Esq., in an interview with Fox News, stated that U.S. troops who proselytize are guilty of sedition and treason and should be punished – by the hundreds if necessary – to stave off what he called a “tidal wave of fundamentalists.” Mr. Weinstein observed, “Someone needs to be punished for this. Until the Air Force or Army or Navy or Marine Corps punishes a member of the military for unconstitutional religious proselytizing and oppression, we will never have the ability to stop this horrible, horrendous, dehumanizing behavior.” Mr. Weinstein further wrote in the Huffington Post, “Today, we face incredibly well-funded gangs of fundamentalist Christian monsters who terrorize their fellow Americans by forcing their weaponized and twisted version of Christianity upon their helpless subordinates in our nation’s armed forces.” (Read Mr. Weinstein’s full article here.) He further compared the act of Christian proselytization to rape. Mr. Weinstein told Fox News, “It is a version of being spiritually raped and you are being spiritually raped by fundamentalist Christian religious predators. When those people [isn’t that dehumanizing term itself, Mr. Weinstein?] are in uniform and they believe there is no time, place or manner in which they can be restricted from proselytizing, they are creating tyranny, oppression, degradation, humiliation and horrible, horrible pain upon members of the military.” So, there you have it!
Now in more normal times, that would be just one man’s ignorant and bigoted opinion, but it does seem to resonate with Obama political appointees and sycophantic generals at the Pentagon. And we will see whether the military will actually enforce its own guidelines (I suspect that they will try), or whether any federal judge will affirm such a court-martial on First Amendment free speech grounds. However, the Pentagon did confirm to Fox News that Christian evangelism is now against regulations. “Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense,” Commander Nate Christensen said in a written statement. He did decline to say if any chaplains or service members had been prosecuted for such an offense. “Court Martials and non-judicial punishments are decided on a case-by-case basis and it would be inappropriate to speculate on the outcome in specific cases.” Several days later, realizing that the military had opened a proverbial hornet’s nest, the Pentagon indicated on May 2nd that, of course, evangelization is still permitted, but the rights of all believers and non-believers will be protected from aggressive proselytizing. Lt. Col. Laurel Tingley clarified the Air Force position: “When on duty or in an official capacity, Air Force members are free to express their personal religious beliefs as long as it does not make others uncomfortable.” (Emphasis added.) Could the mere presence of a Bible passively on a sergeant’s desk, or a “I LOVE JESUS” bumper sticker to a lieutenant’s car make someone “feel uncomfortable?”
Ron Crews, the executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, warned that the Air Force policy would “significantly impact the religious liberties of Air Force personnel. Saying that a service member cannot speak of his faith is like telling a service member he cannot talk about his spouse or children. I do not think the Air Force wants to ban personnel from protected religious speech, and I certainly hope that it is willing to listen to the numerous individuals and groups who protect military religious liberty without demonizing service members.” Perhaps that is what the American people voted for last November. But for Obama Pentagon officials and some of their high-ranking officer minions, the problems facing our military seem less likely to be Islamic terrorists in our midst and abroad, but those really pesky evangelistic Christian believers. Of course, they are only sharing with others about the most important decision and relationship of their lives. But again, I warn: Christian and/or conservative young people, you would be prudent to find something better to do than to join our military! For those of us who are signers of the Manhattan Declaration, it also seems to me that we are growing closer to the day when civil disobedience will be necessary.